For the last two decades, the popular refrain on visiting Cuba has been “Go now before it changes forever”. There have been some startling developments in that time, but the Cuban story, and the country itself, never ceases to captivate and enthral. Here's our list of the best things to do in Cuba.
The drive down the 48km causeway from just outside Caibarién to the islands is quite spectacular. The drive itself is half the fun of a visit. The dark, deeper waters nearer the land give way to shallow turquoise around the cays. They become almost clear as the network of islets increases in number and complexity.
This tailor-made trip to Cuba will take you beyond Havana's city limits, with its cigar-smoke-filled jazz bars, to discover other towns, rural villages and plantations across Cuba, not to mention the idyllic Varadero Beach.
On the western tip of Cayo Guillermo, gorgeous Playa Pilar is named after Ernest Hemingway’s yacht, Pilar. This beach was the author’s favourite Cuban hideaway. With limpid clear shallows and squeaky-clean sand, Playa Pilar is, without a doubt, the top beach choice on Guillermo, if not in the entire cays.
You will find more beach destinations in our guide to the best beaches in Cuba.
Surrounded by guard towers, the classically proportioned governor’s mansion and a phalanx of wardens’ villas mask the four circular cell buildings that rise like witches’ cauldrons from the centre of the complex.
But though its central streets are heaving with visitors, Habana Vieja is no sanitized tourist attraction, and the area buzzes with a frenetic sense of life.
The owners have gone further than any other vega in their efforts to attract tourists, offering engaging guided tours of the plantation, product sampling opportunities and even the chance to meet members of the Robaina family.
The valley supports its own microclimate. From roughly June to October, it rains most afternoons, making it a good idea to get your sightseeing done in the mornings. Mosquitoes are also more prevalent at this time of year and insect repellent is a definite must for any visit.
Take this tailor-made Highlight Tour of Western Cuba to explore the main areas: From Havana over the Viñales valley to Trinidad and Che's monument in Santa Clara. This fast-paced itinerary is packed with highlights.
Among the marine life you can expect to see in Cuban waters are nurse sharks, parrotfish, turtles, stingrays, barracuda, tarpon, moray eels, bonefish, snapper and tuna. The best time to see whale sharks, arguably the highlight of any diving trip to the island, is in November, while in the spring the fish are in greater abundance.
The headquarters are spread over two or three sites, the first of which is the very basic hospital that Che Guevara founded and ran. The second site comprises the guard post, a small but worthy museum and the grave of a rebel who fell in battle.
Other than the magnificent Palacio de Valle, Punta Gorda has no museums and few historic monuments, but does feature the Club Cienfuegos leisure complex and boat trips from the marina.
Discover the charismatic country of Cuba. Begin in the iconic city of Havana, where you'll explore the old town, and enjoy our tailor-made trip to the Highlights of Cuba: Havana, Trinidad and Cienfuegos.
Carnaval takes place every year from around July 18 to July 27. The main parade is on the first day and is followed by smaller parades on the second, third and fourth days. On the 25th, there’s a general parade from 10 pm in honour of the city’s patron saint; the 26th sees a grand parade, and there’s prize-giving on the 27th.
The fabulous Museo Romántico is an essential part of Trinidad’s delve into the past. With one of the country’s finest and most valuable collections of colonial furniture packed into its fourteen rooms, this 1808-built mansion, formerly owned by Count Brunet, is well worth visiting.
There are said to be around 60,000 vintage American cars in Cuba. Known as almendrones, most of them are still on the road. Almost all of them were imported from the factories of Detroit during the 1940s and 1950s when the US was Cuba’s most significant trade partner.
Take the family a step back in time: Explore Havana in classic cars and on foot, take a boat trip to the Cueva del Indio in Viñales and relax on the white, sandy beaches of Cayo Levisa on this tailor-made Family Trip to Cuba.
It consistently attracts an excellent line-up: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Haden and Max Roach have all played in the past, alongside Cuban luminaries such as Bobby Carcassés, Roberto Fonseca and of course Chucho Valdés himself. Venues across the city include Teatro Mella, Teatro Karl Marx, Teatro Amadeo Roldan, Teatro América and the Casa de la Cultura de Plaza.
Alternatively, just head for the beach – there are a couple of good options northwest of town.
Try this moderately challenging cycling tailor-made trip through the Cuban countryside visiting the tobacco fields of Viñales Valley and a pristine Caribbean beach in Cayo Jutias.
Among the revolutionary pamphlets, Che Guevara tomes and the occasional novels you can find vintage Cuban and US tourist brochures, postcards and lifestyle magazines. Some reflect on life before Castro. You can also find copies of rare books and all sorts of other collectors’ items — like revolutionary posters and Cuban film art. Starting prices are high – be prepared to haggle.
But don’t expect to stroll in solitude: the Malecón is the capital’s front room and you won’t be on it for long before someone strikes up a conversation. People head here for free entertainment, particularly at night when it fills up with guitar-strumming musicians, vendors offering cones of fresh-roasted nuts, and star-gazing couples, young and old alike.
If you are looking forward to explore local cuisine - read our guide to the best restaurants in Havana.
The perfect cinematic backdrop for a mojito, it was built in 1930 and quickly became a favourite with visiting luminaries. Among them are Ava Gardner, Winston Churchill, Josephine Baker and John Wayne – and more. Recently it has added the likes of Naomi Campbell and Jack Nicholson to its clientele.
FAC is a unique blend of cosmopolitan culture and traditional Cuban spirit, offering a diverse array of contemporary art and live music. It is a must-see stop on any list of things to do in Cuba for those seeking an authentic experience.
The right turn leads to the Rancho Curujey visitor centre. Meanwhile, the left turn leads several hundred metres down to the village, a well-spaced complex of red-roofed bungalows and apartment blocks. They are beautifully woven into the grassy slopes of a valley, at the foot of which is a man-made lake. Below the housing, you can see the compact Las Terrazas village buildings dotted around the lake.
On first view, Camagüey is a bewildering place to negotiate, with a seemingly incomprehensible labyrinth of roads that were laid out in a futile attempt to confuse marauding pirates. An aimless wander along the narrow cobbled streets, overhung by delicate balustrades and Rococo balconies, is one of the delights of a visit. Round corners onto handsome parks and happen upon crumbling churches.
The remains of Guevara and his comrades, who were killed in Bolivia in 1967, were exhumed and brought to Santa Clara in 1997, where they were interred in the mausoleum.
Today just one functioning refinery remains. However, the remnants and ruins of the manor houses and mills that occupied the estates remain dotted throughout the valley. The most intact example is Manaca-Iznaga – though San Isidro de los Destiladeros is also worth visiting,
Cayo Coco’s big three beaches, home to the all-inclusive and packed with boisterous activities, hog the narrow easternmost peninsula jutting out of the Cay’s north coast. For a pocket of tranquillity, escape the main beaches and head to Playa Los Flamencos. The beach offers 3km of fine sands and transparent waters where tangerine-coloured starfish float through the shallows. There’s also good snorkelling out to sea.
Arrive in Havana and make your way all throughout the island with stops in Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Cayo Coco, Camaguey and Santiago before returning to Havana on this tailor-made trip to Complete Cuba - Nature, Tradition and Sights of the Revolution.
If you are inspired by Cuba and its attractions read our guide to the best things to do in Puerto Rico. Also, Cuba is one of the best places for a family holiday. In our guide to the best places to go with kids, you will find other attractive family-friendly destinations.
Ready for a trip to Cuba? Check out The Rough Guide to Cuba. If you travel further in Cuba, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Cuba. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to Cuba and our local travel experts. A bit more hands-on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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